Progesterone may be the overlooked steroid hormone, but without it there can be no hormonal balance and no homeostasis. Optimal levels of progesterone are essential for the maintenance and balance of our internal terrain. When we have managed to reach a state of homeostasis, we live the good life and feel full of energy and zest for living, and free of disease. The further we stray from homeostasis, the worse we feel and the more susceptible to disease we become.
Progesterone is primarily a female hormone.
In women progesterone is normally present only during the second half of the monthly cycle, coming on stage just as estrogen is exiting. This relationship reflects the fact that progesterone is the primary balancing hormone for the aggressive tendencies of estrogen.
But health men produce progesterone too. It balances the effects of estrogen for them as well, but its most important role in the male body is as a precursor to testosterone, the primary male steroid hormone.
Progesterone is the hormone of gestation
Look at the name and you will easily see that progesterone is the critical hormone during the gestation period. During the luteal phase of the cycle, progesterone is produced by the collapsed follicle until either the period begins or the placenta takes charge of continuous progesterone production during pregnancy.
When progesterone production begins during the second half of the menstrual cycle, it causes the endometrium to prepare for receiving and nourishing an implanted fertilized eff. If no egg is implanted, levels of both estrogen and progesterone drop and the cycle begins again. If there is a pregnancy, progesterone levels remain elevated until birth, at which time there is a dramatic drop. This dramatic drop off in progesterone gives rise to the post-partum depression many women suffer after giving birth.
Progesterone works with estrogen to build healthy bones
Without progesterone there can be no healthy bones.
While estrogen restrains bone loss, progesterone stimulates the formation of new bone. Both these hormones, working as a team, are essential to the production and maintenance of healthy bone. Bone drugs such as Fosomax and other bisphosphonates create such havoc in the body precisely because they address only the function of restraining bone loss. They allow old bone to ossify and become brittle and subject to fractures, the very thing they were advertized to prevent. They do nothing to stimulate the replacement of old bone with new vital bone growth.
No matter how healthy your are, how many vitamins and minerals you supplement, or how much exercise you get, you cannot keep or build healthy bone unless optimal levels of estrogen and progesterone are present.
Want to be cool, calm and collected?
Optimal levels of progesterone help keep women at their ideal weight. Progesterone is a natural diuretic and a fabulous fat burner. If a woman gains weight in the days leading up to her period, she is probably low on this essential hormone.
Progesterone works with the other steroid hormones to protect against disease. It improves vascular tone, normalizes blood clotting, prevents migraines, and keeps arterial plaque away. A substantial amount of recent research is showing that optimal levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone prevent cancer and other degenerative diseases. One of the actions progesterone contributes to this protection is t keeping cells oxygenated. Cancer can only thrive in an environment of reduced oxygen.
Other protective actions of progesterone are normalizing blood sugar levels, boosting thyroid function, and reducing swelling and inflammation.
Estrogen is the hormone of irritability, obsession, anxiety, agitation and panic. On the other hand, progesterone is calming, soothing and smoothing. If you are having bouts with PMS, you probably are very low on progesterone.
Symptoms of low progesterone
Many of the symptoms of low progesterone coincide with symptoms of other health issues. But if you are a female past the age of 28 and have several of these symptoms, it’s very likely that you are low on progesterone:
- Sugar craving
- Ovarian cysts
- Irregular periods
- Low body temperature, feeling cold all the time
- Passing of blood clots during menstruation
- Brittle nails
- Decreased sex drive
- Cracked skin on heels
- Depression, anxiety, panic attacks
- Menstrual cramps
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Digestive problems
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Loss of memory
- Low libido
- Sluggish metabolism
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Mood Swings
- Unexplained weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
Why do women lose progesterone at such an early age?
Foreign estrogens, known as xenoestrogens are forms of estrogen found in plastics, petroleum products, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Exposure to foreign estrogens can elevate the body’s estrogen level and overwhelm progesterone production.
During our embryonic stage of life, we are particularly sensitive to the toxicity of foreign hormones, and we can develop dysfunctional hormone systems of our own as a result. Foreign hormones stay in the body and do not biodegrade. They are with us for life, influencing the functioning of our bodies.
Another reason we may lose progesterone is the stress of living in the modern world. Stress increases cortisol levels, which in turn block progesterone from docking in progesterone receptors in the body. When progesterone is blocked from its receptors, it is useless.
Replacing lost progesterone
Like all the hormones in the body, progesterone is derived from cholesterol, so having an adequate intake of dietary cholesterol is necessary to have optimal progesterone levels.
Chasteberry, also known as vitex, is an herb that works to lower estrogen and raise progesterone at the same time. It’s action is subtle and will usually be effective only for women in the early stages of progesterone decline. Other herbs that are known to help increase progesterone levels are turmeric, thyme and oregano.
As much as you are able, stay away from sources of xenoestrogens. Don’t drink from plastic water bottle or microwave food in plastic containers. The liners used in canned food are high in xenoestrogens. So are most conventional personal care products and cosmetics.
While synthetic progesterone substitution drugs, known as progestins administered continuously have been implicated in breast cancer, natural bioidentical progesterone administered during the second half of the menstrual cycle acts to prevent all hormone related cancers. Since progesterone is present in the body naturally for about 15 days a month, replacement progesterone should follow this pattern. It is only during pregnancy that progesterone is continuously present in the body for a sustained period of time.
Many women experience estrogen dominance, a term that does not mean an excess of estrogen. It means there is not enough progesterone. This condition is characterized by heavy bleeding that may include clots, unexplained weight gain, bloating, and an intestinal tract that feels like it’s filled with concrete. Women who are still producing an adequate amount of estrogen can often regain hormonal balance simply by buying a tube of natural progesterone cream at a health food store or online, and applying it as directed for the second 15 days of the monthly cycle. All the USP progesterone creams sold at such places are bioidentical.
Instead of taking a synthetic anti-depressant that would provide a host of unpleasant side effects and would appear in breast milk, progesterone cream can be safely used until a feeling of normalcy returns after giving birth.
Natural Progesterone: The Multiple Roles of a Remarkable Hormone. John R. Lee. 2001.